Sensible Defaults

We all have things that we use from the same brands that we’ve been using for years — I know I do. These could be something as mundane as hand sanitizer or as significant as one’s computing platform. We don’t think twice about it because they just work for us. In fact, they become invisible to a point that we don’t see the things or tools we use; instead, we see the results that arise from them, which is the point. It’s never about input, but output. It’s likely that we’ll continue using these things until that company either stops making them or shuts down. That’s the power of a sensible default — something for which you make final choices. Although I had been applying this idea in my own life for quite some time, I first found it articulated well on the web by Patrick Rhone.

Instead of buying average things and replacing them often, it’s better to buy the “best thing” possible in terms of affordability and longevity. Cheap things tend to become more expensive in the long term. This goes back to my overall life philosophy, which is less and better.

The things you get don’t have to be great, per se. They can be “good enough”. The important thing is that they work for you. This is why I buy the same pair of earphones time and again even after the earphones become defunct after a lot of use. The choice I’ve made with earphones seems to be a final choice for me. That means I no longer have to make a decision about the earphones I’m going to be using because I’m happy with my final choice. That is, until the company stops making them, at which point I’ll look for my next default pair. Until that point, no decision needs to be made. No more thinking is required.

There are different types of sensible defaults:

  • Things that you buy once and keep forever (fine watch, for instance). These can last forever if you maintain them well.

  • Things that are consumable goods (hand sanitizer); you’re buying the same product repeatedly when it runs out; even in this case, you’ve made a final choice about which sanitizer to buy. Then, it’s just a matter of buying new ones when old ones run out.

  • You’ve made final choices about what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it (food or exercise, for instance), and then you forget about it.

So, what is the value of having sensible defaults in your life?

It removes the unnecessary thinking required to make the same choices again and again. There is no thinking involved except in the beginning. We know what works and we keep using it until it stops getting produced or we find something better that we come across without actively looking for it. When you consider longevity as a key factor in buying things, it helps alleviate future choices.

Decision making, regardless of type, is stressful. Eliminating unnecessary mental energy is essential to staying sharp in the present. So, let’s make as few non-vital decisions as possible. Having sensible defaults lets you declutter your mind, cut down on non-vital decisions, and helps you create routines.

Sensible defaults reduce friction and provide simplicity in all areas you can think to apply them.

You might say that by making these choices in advance you’re reducing the spontaneity in your life in terms of trying new things, to which I’ll say that you’re already doing the thinking in the beginning before deciding on the final choice.

This begs the question — how do we find (and set) sensible defaults? Well, we find what works and we stick with it. That’s it. If it ain’t broken, why fix it?

Final choices and sensible defaults are only possible when you’ve taken the time to explore, evaluate, and execute, which is based on the principle of divergence and convergence.

Whenever you find yourself making a buying choice, be sure to account for the longevity of the product in question, because that will remove the need for making future choices about that thing.

Remember less and better? Have fewer things/experiences, but only the best ones. Quality trumps quantity any day of the week.

Just because you have sensible defaults doesn’t mean that they are set in stone and that you can’t change them. For instance, with my lunch template (carbs, veggies, protein), I can choose not to use it and instead head out to eat without following any template. Sensible defaults allow you to fall back on them when you don’t have anything else to choose.

So how do you apply sensible defaults effectively in everyday life?

It could mean eating the same thing for breakfast five days a week. If you’re going to do something every day, you might as well decide once instead of making the same decision every day. This is not to say you do it every day without thinking — you could still evaluate what you’re doing once a week and decide if you want to continue what you’re doing, modify it, or stop doing it altogether.

Another instance is the laptop I use — an Apple computer. I’ve been using notebooks from Apple for many years. Not just notebooks, but I’ve been using other products from them as well. Why? Because they work well for me. They have for many years. They work well together in their Apple ecosystem/platform. Besides, why learn another platform like Microsoft or Android (or any other) when I’m already familiar with how things work with Apple? I have neither the time nor the inclination to learn something new if something is already working for me, even when there might be a “better” computing platform out there.

Having a sensible default could mean using one operating system version until it stops working. It could mean sticking with a smartphone until it stops working. It could mean keeping the same versions of applications on your phone until they stop working for you, at which point you download the update for it to continue working.

The tools you use for work are also sensible defaults. Figure them out once, then get busy using the heck out of them to do whatever it is you make with them.

These final choices are the result of a lot of thinking and research using the Explore, Evaluate, Execute process. The point is to do the thinking once until you figure out the right thing for you. That’s it.

Steve Jobs might be the most famous example of a sensible default advocate that comes to mind. Anyone who saw him in the last few years knew exactly what he wore every day to work – a black mock turtleneck, Levi’s 501 jeans, and New Balance sneakers. Perhaps at some point he must have thought about making this choice every day. Why not eliminate this daily decision and instead decide once and for all?

This eliminates the daily thinking required about what to wear because that choice has already been made once in advance, particularly if it’s a mundane decision you have to make every day.

I have sensible defaults for almost everything in my life. Here are some examples.

  • Having my meals at the same time every day.
  • Using the same lunch template for my work week: carbs, veggies, protein.
  • Always ordering the same drink at Starbucks.
  • Going to the same, few restaurants (only the best) and typically ordering the same thing (after having explored and evaluated initially).
  • Buying the same brand and style of denim every time one wears out.
  • Buying the same brand of sanitizer.
  • Buying the same in-ear headphones.
  • Using the same computing platform (Mac/iOS).
  • Using the same software I’ve been using as before.
  • Using the same online services.
  • Using the same combination of toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Using grooming products from the same companies.
  • Using the same tools: Sharpie pen, Field Notes, workstation calendar, etc.

In closing, I would say that you spend more time thinking about final choices and contemplating final decisions. Take as much time as possible to make the best choice possible. Once made, then you keep using what works.

Take some time to think about the choices you’re making when it comes to buying/doing things. Give proper thought and consideration to things that matter to you. Determine the one choice you’ll be happy with so that you’ll never have to make that choice again.

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